– by David Morgan-Brown
Although he only appeared in three feature films and died an untimely death at only 24, James Dean garnered a legendary status that most poster-boys dream of achieving. His performances in these films, Rebel Without a Cause, Giant, and East of Eden are all regarded as some of the best from an American actor in the ‘50s and we can only imagine what other roles he could’ve brought to the world. A biopic of his life and sudden death would certainly be welcome, though this new film seems to document a narrow aspect of his life just at the time he was on the cusp of fame.
We follow Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson), a young photographer at Life magazine, who meets the not-quite-yet-famous actor James Dean (Dane DeHaan) and they agree to help each other out, with Dennis using him as a new subject for his photographic project, and Dean wants these photos to help propel his acting career. Something of a friendship soon emerges from this and Stock and Dean travel from Los Angeles to New York when Dean finally secures an acting gig with a new film by acclaimed American director Elia Kazan, then travel to Indianapolis so Stock can meet Dean’s family, and he can see them for what would be his last time.
Anton Corbijn is a rather suitable director to be helming this sort of story. He himself was a popular and largely renowned photographer from back in the ‘80s, who photographed many bands including Joy Division, and he would later make his first film about that band’s troubled lead singer Ian Curtis in Control (which still remains his best film).
The film starts off easy enough, as it shows us the introduction of these two fellas and their growing relationship as they use each other to enhance one another’s level of fame in their field. But this relationship, which seems to be at the core of the film, hardly seems powerful, engaging, or entertaining enough to warrant spending two hours with these characters, as their actor-photographer relationship is only tinged with a reasonable amount of friendship. In another case, this could’ve been more about the work between this pair, but there’s not enough from that angle either. What’s left is a bit of a malnourished portrayal of these two young men living in an exciting changing time of America, yet this excitement is rarely felt in the film.
Life certainly lives up to its title, but it doesn’t exactly feel alive – it simply recreates the more pedestrian moments of life and establishing a friendship. Even though the acting from all is commendable and the film is handsomely presented, it can’t stop it from being a little dim.